Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Kleebtronics August: Programmable Synthesizer

August 16, 2011

Alright, getting things done early! For August, I took an Arduino shield Steph got me for Christmas from Critter and Guitari, programmed it, and built it into a case so I could use it on the Fundustrial Revolution Tour, which departs tomorrow. Anyone reading this from Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, or NYC should come and check out the mayhem.

Anyway, here is what the synth looked like after I put the kit together:

You can see that the pots just sort of hang out at the top and the buttons are those really tiny momentary switches. Sure, it sounded cool, but not very practical for a touring setup.

So I decided to build an enclosure:

Nice, easy plywood enclosure. I didn’t have any scrap metal lying around for the top, but I did have some plexiglass. Let me tell you, drilling through plexiglass is NOT a fun time:

This probably took longer than anything else related to this project. We actually had to spray water on the plexiglass as we drilled to prevent cracking.

Next were the buttons. Now, the surface-mounted buttons were not going to cut it, so I needed something that would press down on them from the faceplate. I ordered a 1/8″ wooden dowel from mcmastercarr, along with some rubber washers to keep them in place. Steph glued the washers on the bottom side of the dowel pieces and we dropped them into the plexiglass holes:

After adding a 1/4″ jack in the side, the synth was almost finished:

I decided to finish the wooden case with a layer of Tolex. After a fun night with glue, the finished Arduino Synth was ready for the road. Here’s the video demo, as promised:


Fuck Ton/ DubKnowDub “Explosion” Tape

January 24, 2011
FuckTon/DubKnowDub Tape

Limited edition tapes are also available. Email me if you want to buy one.

A few weeks back, Fuck Ton recorded our first official recording for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. The resulting madness was to become half of the “Explosion” split with DubKnowDub and released on a limited number of cassette tapes. We wrote, recorded, and mixed the entire album over the span of a few hours.

I’d highly recommend buying the hand-printed tape if you live in or around New York, because it looks freakin awesome. Eli from DubKnowDub did all of the artwork. If you’re not from around here, don’t own a cassette player, or are poorer than we are, you can download the FuckTon songs at the link below:

Fuck Ton – Explosion

If you want to purchase a copy of the tape, just email me and I’ll arrange to send one out to you.

Kleeb’s Best of 2010 Mix

December 26, 2010

If you’ve been following my LiveJournal/Blogspot/Wordpress since like 2001, you’d know that I’ve traditionally posted my favorite 100 songs of the year sometime between Christmas and New Year’s. Well from here on out, I’m going to change the gameplan to something a bit more logical and practical. I posted a mix of my favorite tracks of the year. You can stream it at the link below:

Kleeb's Best of 2010 Mix

Kleeb's Best of 2010 Mix

Or, since the mix fits on any standard 80-minute CD, you can download it here:

Download Kleeb’s Best of 2010 Mix

Kleeb’s Best Albums of 2010

December 13, 2010

Another year down in the music world, and there’s a tremendous amount of great stuff to talk about. On Death By Audio Records, we saw releases by French Miami and Coin Under Tongue, as well as a new album by Sisters. There have also been great releases this year by my friends in Golden Ages from Philly and EwwYaboo from Wilkes-Barre. Though I dabbled in a few different projects, this has been the first year in a long time that I didn’t really play a lot of music. Anyway, here are some links to lists from years past:

Best Albums of 2009
Best Albums of 2008

I had a really hard time narrowing down ten albums, especially with so much good music coming out of my house this year. I decided to single out my favorite EP of the year before I tackle the albums:

French Miami – Motor Skills

French Miami, the three-piece from San Francisco, recorded their first album in since 2008 and self-released it on Death By Audio records. Motor Skills is a six-song EP that showcases a wide range of talents, from finger-tapping math rock to synth-laden 80’s horror movie soundtrack. The melodies are contagiously catchy, and the most obvious example is “Older,” where a syncopated snare drum and finger-tapped guitar complement Heiselman’s reverb-heavy lyrics. The other obvious standout track is “Jon Odyssey,” an instrumental that is straight out of a John Carpenter film. It’s so evidently different from the rest of the songs that you have to wonder what’s in store for their next album. It’s a shame this one has only six songs.

10. Woods – At Echo Lake

After last year’s Songs of Shame, I became obsessed with Woods. The weird, lo-fi Neil Young-esque vocals, the folky campfire melodies, the fuzzy psychedelic jams. I couldn’t stop listening to it. Yet, for as catchy as parts of Songs of Shame were, other parts were drawn out and a bit tedious. This year, Woods trimmed the fat with At Echo Lake. This album is a mere thirty minutes and it’s solid all the way through. Leadoff track “Blood Dries Darker” is a poppy jaunt, drowned in that lo-fi vocal reverb that makes Jeremy Earl so distinct. The bright “Suffering Season” is contrasted by the dark “Death Rattles,” but both sides of Woods are effective.

9. Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz/All Delighted People

Last year, Sufjan Stevens came out of the blue for the first time since 2005’s Illinois with “You Are The Blood,” a 10-minute track on Dark Was The Night that combined his soft, soothing vocals with abrasive electronic sounds, brass fanfares, and a lo-fi piano interlude. It was one of the most experimental and amazing songs I’d heard in a long time, and a welcome change from the 50-states project.

When I first heard the All Delighted People EP in August, it was exciting to hear some of Stevens’ first work in five years. The song “All Delighted People” is the obvious highlight, with two versions to listen to, both clocking in at 11 and 8 minutes respectively. The rest of the EP is filled with quiet, stereotypical Sufjan filler, including the stellar “Heirloom,” then ends with “Djohariah,” a sprawling 17 minutes of choirs, horns, piano, acoustic guitar, and random electronic buzzes and beeps. Eight songs, over an hour long. Hardly an EP, but we knew what was on the horizon.

Less than two months later, Stevens dropped Age of Adz, chock full of weirdness and abrasive sounds. If you know about Sufjan’s past as an electronic musician (A Sun Came, Enjoy Your Rabbit), it would make sense that he would incorporate a heavy digital influence on an otherwise soft and melodic album. Tracks like “Too Much” and “I Walked” have pretty straightforward vocal melodies, like you’d find on Seven Swans or Michigan. What makes them unique is the digital drums, piercing beeps and hums, and vocal effects. Stevens doesn’t opt for accessibility on Age of Adz and that is what makes the album interesting. There’s none of the folky, banjo-plucking soft rock that everyone loved on Illinois. In fact, you’ll even hear him drop the F-bomb on this one, as the chorus of “I Want To Be Well” exclaims over and over, “I’m not fucking around!”

So it’s a serious, edgy album, although it ends on an optimistic note. 25-minute closer “Impossible Soul” claims “Boy, we can do much more together/It’s not so impossible.”

8. Caribou – Swim

Swim is the third proper release from Daniel Snaith’s moniker Caribou. A vast departure from 2005’s The Milk of Human Kindness and 2007’s Andorra, Swim is an exploration of digital music. It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Caribou has been performing with samplers, electronic drums, and Ableton tracks for years. Of course, these were always taking a backseat to guitars and drums. On Swim, they’re at the forefront, and this album would be more likely categorized under “house” rather than “indie rock.” Take the second track “Sun” for example. The only lyrics are the song’s title, sung over and over with a wobbly synth line and driving drum beat. Or “Bowls,” an instrumental exploration of percussion, ranging from maracas to bells to castanets. This album does have its catchy moments too. Leadoff track “Odessa” stands out above the rest, a catchy melody that bridges the gap between Caribou the rock band and Caribou the club DJs.

After witnessing their 2009 performance as the Caribou Vibration Ensemble, complete with a boys’ choir and Marshall Allen from Sun Ra, I’ve gained a new respect for Caribou. Subsequent performances utilize more electronics than ever before. The drums are all digitized, linked up to an Ableton track. Samplers drive the beat, and Snaith alternates between keys, guitar, drums, or just maracas as he conducts his digital orchestra. I’d be lying if I said this performance wasn’t one of my primary influences when combining drumming with electronic music. I’m just excited to see what direction Snaith heads next.

7. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

For the first three minutes of This Is Happening, James Murphy may as well be whispering over a minimal drum beat and sparse synthesizers. Once “Dance Yrself Clean” kicks in, however, the next five minutes combine multiple synth lines into that unique LCD Soundsystem sound, complete with Murphy’s wails. The single “Drunk Girls,” the one song I can do without, is a testament to the club scene, and a lot of the lyrics hit pretty close to home. The pinnacle of the album is the one-two punch of “All I Want,” a Strokes-esque ballad, and “I Can Change,” a catchy pop song reminiscent of 80’s dance music.

Though LCD Soundsystem is pretty well nestled into their niche, they improve with each new release. This Is Happening has more introspection and less optimism than 2007’s Sound of Silver and as Murphy matures, his lyrics become more intense and his music more intricate. On “Somebody’s Calling Me,” the slightly off-key synth gives a unique abrasion to an almost lounge-y dance track. James Murphy continues to surprise and impress me, and I don’t even really like dance music that much.

6. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

In 2005, I considered Demon Days one of the best albums I had ever heard in my life. Damon Albarn’s cartoon creation had hit the mainstream, and the hip-hop collaborations and animated music videos made the Gorillaz one of the most unique bands (bands?) in existence. After five years, with little more than the flop Monkey Albarn came back in full force with Plastic Beach.

The collaborators on the new album are a bit more well-known: Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, and De La Soul. A brass orchestra opens “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” before allowing Snoop Dogg to take over and lay down some slow verses about pollution (plastic beach, get it?). The single “Stylo” is probably one of the best tracks, with a driving bassline guiding Albarn, Mos Def, and Womack along. Check out the video with Bruce Willis. With 16 tracks, there is a bit of filler. “Superfast” is a cheesy melody, though it has some entertaining lyrics about fast food and breakfast cereal. “On Melancholy Hill” is a fantastic, uplifting pop song, which breaks up the second half of the album nicely. Since five years have passed, it’s hard to compare Plastic Beach to Demon Days, but since I expected to dislike the new album after Albarn’s Monkey phase, it’s nice to have a surprise like this.

5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Here’s an album that’s going to place on almost everyone’s year end list. In 2010, Arcade Fire solidified their place alongside iconic rock bands like U2 and Radiohead with The Suburbs, an album that hits close to home with young people growing up in an unstable economy with memories of the safety and security of their childhood. Tracks like “The Suburbs” and “Wasted Hours” reminisce about a past life, where working a 9 to 5 and raising a family was the norm and no one worried about losing their job or scrounging for financial security. Even the interactive album includes scenes from suburban sprawls, including a video for “We Used To Wait” that invites you to enter your childhood street address so you can go on a Google Earth adventure through your old neighborhood.

Along with the memories, Arcade Fire addresses the present with tracks like “Modern Man” and “Rococo,” with biting lyrics about kids today following trends and not understanding the world they live in. The fiery passion we saw on Funeral has evolved into a mature, introspective look at the world. Sure, songs like “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” still have that signature Arcade Fire sound, and they’ve garnered enough respect to sell out Madison Square Garden (along with a live feed directed by Terry Gilliam). With this release, Arcade Fire has redeemed their reputation that was soiled by the sub-par Neon Bible, and will continue to appeal to both mainstream and indie audiences because of their concepts and lyrics.

4. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I have every inclination to hate Kanye West. He’s an egomaniac, an asshole, and a crybaby. But goddamn, the guy is one hell of a song writer. This album, though probably not a 10.0, is a return to the brilliance we last saw somewhere between Late Registration and Graduation. In “Runaway” he even addresses his twisted ego with a “toast to the douchebags,” as if this will somehow forgive his Taylor Swift incident at the Grammys. Of course, when was there a superstar pop idol who wasn’t a lunatic? Take a look at Michael Jackson, his demise an eventual result of the pedestal he stood upon. Kanye is unabashedly picking up his flag, with a literal tribute to the King of Pop in “All of the Lights” as well as a parade in his honor in the ridiculous 35 minute music video for “Runaway.” So taking into account his self-centered lyrics, his excessive glamor, and his penchant for being the center of attention, whether positive or negative, and you can understand the genius behind My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

3. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

Every year or two, a songwriter comes around wielding a single acoustic guitar and proving his musical prowess solely through his vocal melodies and poetic lyrics. Channeling the nasely style of Dylan, Neil Young, and Devendra Banhart comes Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth. Although The Wild Hunt isn’t his first release, it’s a fantastic follow-up to his 2008 debut album, Shallow Grave. However, despite the thousands of Dylan comparisons, the one distinct difference between the two is Matsson’s placated lyrics, casting off the problems of the world and singing about the Scandinavian countryside and past lovers. While his style isn’t groundbreaking or completely original, you can feel the emotion in his voice when he reaches the chorus of “You’re Going Back” or “King of Spain” as he cracks and strains through the choruses. The anthemic end of the album, “Kids on the Run,” is a piano-driven ballad calling for a return to fleeting childhood memories. As a modern folk album, The Wild Hunt is beautiful and its melodies are addictively catchy.

2. Ariel Pink – Before Today

It’s hard to imagine that Before Today was released in 2010. So many sounds and melodies just sound so familiar. Didn’t I hear that bassline in a Cure song? Isn’t “Bright Lit Blue Skies” a 60’s doo-wop song? This amalgamation of vintage pop is what makes the new record by Ariel Pink so accessible. Ever the minimalist, Ariel Pink has been known for his lo-fi recordings. Up until this record, I never really gave him a chance. Once he teamed up with his current band, the Haunted Graffiti, everything took off. The polished sound of Before Today is on par with a mainstream pop album (at least in the 80’s it could be mainstream). Tracks like “Can’t Hear My Eyes” and “Round and Round” break into catchy choruses in the vein of The Police or Culture Club. Though usually not my cup of tea, Pink’s twist on the genre, the sound effects all made with his mouth, and the weird intrusions of jet plans, screeching tires, and telephones ringing make this album amazing. It’s by far the catchiest album of the year.

1. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

I was first introduced to Joanna Newsom’s unique shrill voice during college when my roommate incessantly played The Milk-Eyed Mender on repeat for weeks on end. At first, I found her unbearable, like nails on a chalkboard. I warmed up to her eventually, and discovered that she had a modern Shakespearean quality to her lyrics, as well as a flair for the harp. This combination of sprawling epic poetry and minimalist harp-plucking was reminiscent of some sort of transplanted traveling minstrel from hundreds of years ago. So when Ys was released in 2006, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the five songs made up an hour-long album full of metaphorical tales about monkeys and bears, and a grammatical conversation about the difference between “meteors” and “meteorites.” I became obsessed. Unfortunately, with the exception of a Van Dyke Parks rendition of a few tracks, we would hear nothing from Newsom for four years.

In early 2010, Joanna released the triple LP Have One On Me. Alternating between solo harp ballads and full-band orchestrations, her new album allows you to digest 18 tracks in three sittings (or if you lack a record player, as many as you want). It’s about two hours long, and the melodies switch between slow, sprawling lullabys (“Baby Birch”) and comparatively fast-paced jaunts (“Good Intentions Paving Company”). It’s impossible to describe the layers of orchestration or lyrical intensity on this album, and I’m certain most people will despise her style upon first listen. For me, I’ve fallen into the category of Joanna Newsom fans who crave the dense orchestration and intense lyrics.

FuckTon/ DubKnowDub

October 17, 2010

A six minute live video from our show in Chelsea:

25 Events That Helped Shape the Past 25 Years

October 3, 2010

Now that I’ve hit a quarter century, I’ve decided to look back and pick a few turning points in my life that helped shape where I am today. Rather than go year-by-year (because I can’t remember anything before 1990), I just picked 25 things that stand out in my mind. Here you go!

    Baby Kleeb and Daddy Kleeb

    Baby Kleeb and Daddy Kleeb at Christmas

    1. 100 Warsaw Street: My Childhood
    You can’t make a list of influential things without parents, and without mine drilling things like education and success into my brain, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Since my mom was a teacher, school was always at the forefront of my life. I was forced to do homework and wouldn’t settle for anything less than an A in every class. They pushed me to start reading at an early age, and before Kindergarten I was able to read a few books cover to cover without any help. They love family vacations to the beach, theme parks, and cruises, and I was able to see a lot of different places when I was very young. My dad volunteered to coach my baseball and soccer team when I was young, and also showed me how to use tools when I was young. I remember working on a club house in my backyard when I was around 7 years old with a set of mini tools. Because of their motivation and high expectations, I excelled in high school and finished in the top of my class. They also didn’t mind having the band practice in their basement, which says a lot for their level of patience compared to most people. Now with an empty nest, they just got a puppy to keep them company. You’d think they’d want to relax a little bit now.

    Super Nintendo

    Super Nintendo, 1991

    2. Super Nintendo
    Okay, I admit, I was a huge video game geek when I was a kid and it started around age 8 when the Super NES was released. Street Fighter, Zelda, Mario Bros, I played them all. I eventually graduated to a Nintendo 64 and a Playstation, and it wasn’t until recently that I shut out video games to try and be a little bit more productive. Of course, now and then something will creep up and pull me back to those good old days when I just played Zelda all day long and didn’t care about the world. There’s a reason we have a Wii set up in the living room. Every so often, you just need some Mario Kart.

    Matt Pinfield

    Matt Pinfield, host of 120 Minutes

    3. Matt Pinfield and 120 Minutes
    Every weekend before soccer practice or whatever my 11-year-old self had planned, I would wake up and watch the episode of 120 Minutes that I had taped the night before. I was so obsessed with music videos in those days that I would make lists of my top 20 songs for the week and hope that they’d make it on to MTV’s top 20 list. Through this show, I was introduced to Radiohead, Green Day, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and most of the other mid-90’s alt-rock bands that I loved. Unfortunately, music videos would soon cease to exist on the Music Television channel, and the end of 120 Minutes signaled the end of my relationship with MTV.

    Playing Sax with Electric Lemonade Stand

    Playing Sax with Electric Lemonade Stand

    4. Learning to Play the Saxophone
    My first musical instrument stuck with me to the present day. At age 25 now, I’ve been playing the saxophone on and off for about ten years. The most indispensable aspect of this was learning to read sheet music and understanding music theory behind scales, major and minor keys, and tempo. I played one-on-one until I was in the 7th grade, and also took private lessons on the side. Then I joined the marching band where I lasted for 3 years until the parades and football games almost drove me crazy. Concert band was a different story, and was much more relaxed, and when the jazz band was created in my junior year, I learned to appreciate the instrument all over again, as well as explore the genre of jazz, something I had never really listened to before. After high school, I didn’t play the saxophone for a while, until my last semester of college when I started writing sax parts for a friend’s band. Though it was short lived, I learned how much I loved the horn, and wish I could get back to the level I was at in high school.

    Rehearsal for Rumors

    Rehearsal for Neil Simon's Rumors

    5. Mrs. Bullions and the WA Drama Club
    The most time-intensive extra curricular activity in high school had to be the Drama Club. I had roles in the school play from 8th grade to 11th grade, and also had an active role in set building. Our high school had some of the biggest productions in the Wyoming Valley, and musicals like Bye Bye Birdie and South Pacific had giant casts of over 50 people, as well as elaborate sets that all rotated on moving platforms. I learned a lot about carpentry in those days, and often spent my weekends building, painting, or just helping with whatever needed to be done at the school. As an actor, my favorite roles were in Rumors by Neil Simon and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I still keep in touch with many of the people I met in the Drama Club, and they came to be my closest friends throughout high school. Mrs. Bullions, the former director, was a great teacher, and I still see her time to time when I visit my parents.

    An Albatross

    An Albatross plays Cafe Metropolis in 2007, photo courtesy of Elliott Elliott

    6. My First Show at Cafe Metropolis
    Almost every day of my high school life was spent at Cafe Metropolis, Homebase, the Church, the Zoo, or any of the other live music venues that popped up around Wilkes-Barre, PA. When I was younger, local bands like Bedford, Wonderdog, True Identity, and 8 oz. Joe were some of my favorites, and I remember carpooling to go see their shows in minivans. When I got older, these venues provided places for us to play shows, and supported the local musicians immensely. I watched Homebase and the Zoo shut their doors as the Murry Complex was bought out. I remember when Mike had to stop hosting shows at the Church. Finally, Cafe Metro shut its doors on September 18th, 2010 after 14 years of live music. It was by far the most important place in my adolescent life, and I hope someone else opens a venue to keep live music alive in that destitute town.

    Tama Swingstar Drum Set

    My kit, after stripping the shells and clear-coating

    7. Getting a Drum Set
    When the time came for me to take on a second instrument, I realized it had to be the drums. I found myself to be more rhythmic than melodic, and after learning on Jeff Brown’s backup kit for a few months, I went to pick out a kit of my own. In 2001, I settled on a Tama Swingstar, and I’ve been playing it ever since. It played in my first two bands, Subject to Change and Courage is for Cowards. It somehow survived the destruction of Kill The Lights! even after a guitar burst through the bass drum at the last show. Making it to State College, my drums looked like they’d been through a war zone. Finally, when I got to New York, I stripped the shells, clear coated the natural wood finish, and tuned them with new heads and hardware. After 8 years, they sound better than they ever have before. The drum kit is still my favorite instrument, and I look forward to playing with groups well into the future.

    8. The Of All Days DVD: Learning to Edit Video

    It came as a surprise to everyone that I would be doing my senior high school project in video editing. I had never really owned a video camera before, but I started bringing one with me almost everywhere I went and taping my friend’s band Of All Days at all of their shows. I spent a majority of my senior year learning Adobe Premiere, and I owe a lot of thanks to Mark Favata and Jerry Zezza for showing me the ropes. Subsequently, I kept that camera when I played in Kill The Lights! and taped every one of our shows as well. I still have boxes and boxes of Mini DV tapes with all of my footage from high school, but that camera (and the Mini DV technology) died a few years back. Judging from the fidelity of the video compared to what’s out there today, that’s probably a good thing. I recently acquired Adobe Premiere again, as well as a decent Sony camcorder, and have been planning to get back into some video work. It’s a fun, but expensive hobby.

    The Vista

    Drew, Nogic, and I at the Vista, 2004

    9. The Vista
    Taking a 45 minute drive on Suscon Road and turning down an unlabeled dirt road, then parking and walking another two miles down a path leads to one of the most beautiful locations in northeast Pennsylvania. What we called “The Vista” in high school was the end of a trail in the Lackawanna State Park. The place we discovered was a raised platform at the top of a clearing that overlooked the mountains and suburbia of the Wyoming Valley. Underneath the structure was a fire pit, and the whole area was basically unmonitored. There were countless nights we would carpool to Wendy’s, park, and just hike that trail for the hell of it. Some nights we would camp up there, or just have a fire pit. One night, we had a few bands play by dragging some generators to the top and powering the amps from a car battery. The notion that my high school life was filled with random exploratory journeys, whether through nature or abandoned industrial wasteland, and not filled with parties, alcohol, and drugs, is a unique experience that can only be fulfilled by a dead city like Wilkes-Barre. I came to regard my adolescence with a sort of nostalgia that I may never experience again, now that I’ve been absorbed into the free-flowing bar scene of urban nightlife.

    Eternal Sunshine

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    Though I wanted to exclude any type of media from this list like music, books, and films, the implications of this specific film resonated with recent events in my high school life. The relationship between the two characters in Eternal Sunshine were almost identical to my first relationship, and to say this didn’t have an impact on my life is just ignorant. Without getting into details, I’ll simply say that I’m glad I learned what I did, and it changed the course of my life drastically. This film, on the other hand, has been one of my favorite films ever since, and every time I watch it, it brings back a wave of nostalgia that brings me back to 2004.

    11. Playing in Kill The Lights!

    I’d been playing in bands long before Kill The Lights! was conceived in 2003. However, nothing could match the insanity, the destruction, and mayhem that this band would incur. Playing this renegade show out of our van was the most memorable show, as we were escorted away by security. Also selling sno-cones at Ted Leo, flipping tables at Club HP, and going to the hospital because I punched my cymbal too hard were other pretty notable events. We were punk kids, and we just wanted to play loud music and break shit. So we did.

    Hotel Sterling

    Hotel Sterling, before it was demolished

    12. Exploring the Abandoned Hotel Sterling
    Every night I drove into center city Wilkes-Barre, the Hotel Sterling loomed on the other side of the bridge. It was a dark, abandoned edifice that embodied the former prosperity of the old coal mining city. For a group of underage high school kids without any place to go at night, it was just asking to be explored. Climbing into a second story window, we entered the hotel from the backside and into the huge lobby, complete with all of the abandoned furniture, television sets, and mattresses that couldn’t be hauled out when everyone was evicted. Every floor was covered with graffiti, and REDRUM was written all over the creepy walls of the kitchen. The roof was one of the best vantage points in the city, and I remember sitting inside the “O” on the sign and looking out over Wilkes-Barre. It was truly one of the best memories I have of the city, which is why I’m making screen-printed shirts as a memorial of this landmark.

    Bullet Parade plays on Halloween

    The Bullet Parade plays at the Hookah Lounge on Halloween

    13. Roustabout, The Bullet Parade, and the Hookah Lounge
    I was a punk kid when I started college. I wasn’t playing music, and I was pretty much convinced that bands weren’t good unless they threw drums off the stage and punched bouncers in the face. When I met Jeff Van Fossan and Eric Myers and was absorbed into the local Roustabout scene in State College, I matured quickly. Playing music with more seasoned musicians helped me to expand my taste and stop being so narrow-minded. Drumming in the Bullet Parade offered the opportunity to play shows all over the northeast, from Baltimore, to DC, to Pittsburgh. I met a lot of great people, and it’s the closest thing to a touring band that I’ve ever had. In addition, having the Hookah Lounge nearby gave me a place to hangout that was quiet, full of friends, and was one of the few places in State College that wasn’t a bar. Jeff was also an indirect influence on the following few points in my life, and was a great mentor to have around during my college life.

    Cooking with Kleeb

    Tofu with a mushroom sauce over rice and roasted potatoes - my own recipe

    14. Turning Vegetarian
    Halting the intake of meat didn’t shape my life as much as the new awareness caused by my limited diet. I decided to stop eating meat after I read an article in Rolling Stone about the ecological problems caused by industrial pig farms, including groundwater and air pollution. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the food industry from books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and documentaries like Super Size Me. I started cooking a lot, and developed a sort of affinity for the kitchen. I started gardening (something I had to abandon recently) and buying from farmer’s markets instead of supermarkets. Next season, I plan to enroll in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and getting my produce from local farmers outside of NYC. While my diet is still less than ideal, and I still enjoy indulging time to time, I’ve made great improvements from where I was five years ago.

    Breadboard, Amp, and Power Supply

    My breadboard, amplifier, and power supply, 2010

    15. Changing Majors to Electrical Engineering
    Coming into college as a Chemical Engineering major had mostly to do with my grades in high school and what I thought I’d be successful with. While I loved chemistry on paper, I found myself discontent with lab work. Combined with my acquisition of an old analog Moog synthesizer, meeting Sean Byrne, and opening myself up to the world of DIY circuit design and Maker culture, I decided Electrical Engineering was where I belonged. I concentrated in Digital Signal Processing and focused mainly on audio, a recurring theme of my life. I figured, why not be a professional in the field I love the most? Now I find myself looking into a graduate program at NYU that combines electronic design with art and new media technologies. It’s the perfect combination of art and science that I’ve been looking for my whole life.

    ALT Magazine

    ALT Magazine, 2008

    16. ALT Magazine
    When I looked for a writing outlet at Penn State, I didn’t expect to inherit the Editor-in-Chief position after one semester. That is exactly what happened at ALT Magazine, a zine about politics, culture, art, and music. With only Jen, the graphic designer, left from the previous year, we attempted to rebuild the staff in time to put out an issue for the next year. This proved to be more difficult than I imagined, and it was more work that I ever thought it would be. After putting out two issues, I felt relieved to hand over my position, and proud of the work we had done. I had always toyed with the idea of releasing a zine, and after this trial run in college, I now know how much time, money, and work is involved. It was a great experience, and I’m glad the magazine is still running to this day.

    DJing at Christmastime

    Marko and I DJ at a formal Christmas soiree

    17. Kleeb Parties: How I Became a DJ
    Throwing parties in college went from being a fun weekend activity to a refined art. I remember looking up to some of the other State College DJs that played good music and following them around as a freshman. When I got my own place, I started hosting parties of my own. They became more and more elaborate, the sound systems got bigger, we got lighting and fog machines, and eventually I started offering my DJ services out to other people, and throwing parties all over town. Though I never got into DJing using anything more than an iPod, it made my setup quite compact and easy to setup and break down. Halloween 2008 signaled the end of my DJ career as my Macbook and iPod were both ripped off after the party. However, I’ve been toying with the idea of starting up again in New York. I wonder where I put that 2 channel iPod mixer…

    My Panasonic Beater Bike, 2009

    18. Getting a Road Bike and Freeze/Thaw Cycle Clinics
    Before 2007, I was not a bike rider. I knew how to ride a bike, and a shitty Huffy mountain bike collected dust in my parents’ garage, but the prospect of a bike as transportation hadn’t yet crossed my mind. When Alex Katos called me and asked if I wanted his old Panasonic road bike because he wasn’t using it, it opened up a world that I hardly knew existed: bike commuting. I rode that bike to class every day, and over the next two years, visited Freeze/Thaw cycles to modify the bike and upgrade the brakes, gears, wheels, and pedals. From their clinics, I learned to true a wheel, replace brake cables, pack the bearings in a hub, remove a crank, and the basics of a bike tune up. As my NYC beater bike, the Panasonic still rides to this day, and I continue to tune it up often, because I have a certain attachment to my first road bike.

    Music Mart

    Music Mart, 2008

    19. Working at the Music Mart
    In my junior year of college, I landed my first job that didn’t involve the food industry. The Music Mart was a small musical instrument shop on the main drag of downtown State College. When I first started working, I knew about drums and sheet music, but had little knowledge about the inner workings of guitars or amplifiers, let alone sound systems. Combined with my major, my weekend stints DJing, and a young guitar phenom named Taylor, I learned everything there is to know about guitars, microphones, speakers, cables, mixers, tubes, strings, recording interfaces, and even lighting to an extent. A few times, Tom even hired me to work with him running sound at large concert events, and I learned how to run a sound board and EQ a mix. At the time I was building my own home recording studio, and got a lot of my gear from the Music Mart. When I left, Tom had just hired a new manager to whip the store into shape, and now they have a pretty great web presence that didn’t exist when I was there.

    Roof Above the Army/Navy

    The roof above the Army/Navy

    20. Living Above the Army/Navy
    Most of my collegiate career was spent living in bland, cookie-cutter dorms or apartments. It wasn’t until I ventured out to a party in a decrepit old place above an Army/Navy surplus store that I discovered my appreciation for urban decay and a rustic living atmosphere. No, my apartment above the Army/Navy was not glamorous, but I discovered that it had a personality and a history, and many of the former tenants would come back and share their stories and experiences about living there. Climb through one of the bedroom windows, and you find yourself on a vast rooftop, as big as the apartment itself. Over the winter, I built my first home recording studio. I bought a Macbook, learned Logic Pro, and started recording music for film students. In the summer, I would DJ late nights after the bar closed in the same living room. I was sure after I moved out, the slumlord that owned the building would have some incentive to enforce a set of rules to encourage people to be quiet and stay off the roof. However, one night I wandered past and noticed a few people peering over the edge of my old apartment rooftop. I called up to them and they invited me up to share the stories of what life was like when I lived in that place. There aren’t many living spaces that invite that kind of history with the tenants.

    Sorority House

    Halloween at the Cat House

    21. The Sorority House
    Little did I know my last 4 months in State College would be one of the greatest and weirdest times of my life. Looking for a fall sublet, my good friend Rich and I stumbled upon a large house with three floors, a basement, a back yard, and a porch. When we went to look at it, we were surprised to find that many of the tenants were part of the same sorority, and we’d be living in, pretty much, a female frat house. When I first entered the dingy basement, I was sold. I spent most of my time down there, cleaning up and making it into my recording/practice space. I first started giving drum lessons in the basement, and hosting house shows with a few local State College and Scranton bands. Living with 14 other people also took some getting used to, but it was a great experience and brought me close to people I probably would not have otherwise known. Of course, the craziness didn’t stop after I left. When I returned, I found a chicken farm in the backyard, and a ritualistic slaughter was conducted that night – something I never thought I’d experience. At this point in my life, I was ready to leave that town and get on with my life, but I’m glad my last semester was spent in the company of such a diverse group.

    Sequencer Using Doorbells

    Sequencer Using Doorbells

    22. Bent Festival
    In April 2009, I attended the Bent Festival in New York City for the first time. In a tiny Midtown performance space called The Tank, circuit-benders, tweakers, musicians, and electronic artists crammed together to show off their work. I saw noise-making robots, infrared hand sensors wired to speakers, sequencers that used various doorbells, and musicians that played on switchboxes and motion sensors. I purchased the book Handmade Electronic Music and started playing around with sequencer chips, piezo sensors, and small handmade amps. This single book would launch me on a fascination with handmade amps and guitar pedals that was only accelerated by the event that happened to me one month later…

    Hanging out above Death By Audio

    23. Moving Into Death By Audio
    Trying to figure out my post-college life in a jobless world and wondering why the hell I moved to New York City in the first place brought me a world of confusion in 2009. With my best friends moving home, I was hopelessly alone in the big city. With a stroke of luck, I found the artists’ collective I’ve always dreamed of building for myself. They were into diy electronics, had a live music venue, and a huge warehouse space where almost anything could be built, from almost any material, and then subsequently destroyed if it suited your fancy. After almost two years living here, I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself and my ambitions, and it’s time to take the next step.

    Roland SPD-S

    Roland SPD-S Sample Pad

    24. Sample Pads and Electronic Drums
    Something I had dreamed of doing, long before moving into DBA, was an electric drum sample triggered by hitting the bass drum. Had I known that these had existed for decades, I may have acted on it sooner. I learned how to install a Piezo transducer in my bass drum, and was soon playing with trigger inputs on synths and guitar pedals. When I learned about the Roland SPD-S sample pad, and found one on eBay, my world of drumming was turned upside down. I could record samples, download samples, alter them on my computer, and load them on to a memory card to be used live. I could also wire my bass drum to hit these samples as well. The possibilities were now endless. I downloaded Ableton Live and started building drum kits out of Battery. Next stop: Max For Live and light triggers

    The DBA Ventilation Pipe

    What remained of the pipe, the day we cut it out

    25. Broken Ankle Summer: Cutting Out the Pipe
    One event that is still in process is one that began at the beginning of June, 2010. After my west coast adventure in San Francisco, I came home and promptly stepped in a pothole, breaking my ankle and rendering me pretty much immobile for the entire summer. With lots of time on my hands, and lots of help from my roommate Alex, I decided to remove the ventilation pipe from my bedroom, something that had been in my way since I moved into Death By Audio and represented a huge obstacle against my comfortable living environment, as well as my indecisiveness about staying in the warehouse space. Removing the pipe cemented my stay in New York, and prompted me to apply for grad school. It also sparked a summer of building, which involved making a closet out of the remaining pipe, building a bed, building a large workspace and soldering station, learning to wire electrical outlets, dry wall, and insulate a room, and transform my door into a hidden bookcase. With one last obstacle in my path – installing a window in the hole where the pipe had been – my room will be completely finished. It’s been a really motivating experience, and I’ve been stimulated both creatively and emotionally from the whole ordeal.

Pool Parties! Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu cover Joy Division

July 12, 2010

First Pool Party of the summer featuring Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu playing Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” in its entirety:

The best part of this performance was “I Remember Nothing,” which was accentuated by wine glasses smashing into a garbage can. Also dare I say Greg Saunier (Deerhoof’s drummer) far outperformed Stephen Morris (Joy Division’s drummer), despite being 30 years apart. Great kickoff to summer.

Also on the agenda for this year: Lightning Bolt, Jeff the Brotherhood, Future Islands, Cap’n Jazz, No Age, !!!, Murder City Devils, and a lot more. Hopefully next week I’ll be able to walk there.

Interview with Brian Chippendale

July 7, 2010

Vanessa and Matt recently interviewed Brian Chippendale of Lightning Bolt and Black Pus at his opening at the Cinders Gallery:

Coin Under Tongue release “Dogma Sheen”

July 3, 2010

Death By Audio Records has a lot going on lately – the Seawhores LP has finally arrived, and every copy was printed by hand:

This album an eclectic blend of lo-fi electronic prog and heavy hardcore drumming. Hard to describe, awesome to listen to.

Coin Under Tongue - Dogma Sheen

Also, the new Coin Under Tongue album “Reception” arrived yesterday. The record is officially available in August, but you can download the first single “Dogma Sheen” right now:

Coin Under Tongue – Dogma Sheen

Death By Audio Records

June 24, 2010

Death By Audio Records

Check out the blog for Death By Audio Records where I am now a contributing writer. We’re writing about all of your favorite Brooklyn bands like Coin Under Tongue, Sisters, Grooms, Starring, and True Womanhood. There’s also a Death By Audio Records twitter account, for those of you with short attention spans.